"Republicans close to the campaign said that the top contenders remained the same three men who have been the source of speculation for weeks: former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and, possibly, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut," Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. "Mr. Pawlenty gained some currency as the day wore on because of what were perceived as Mr. Romney's downsides, particularly his wealth as many Americans face financial struggles and his past as a venture capital manager."
"A friend said McCain had pretty much settled on his selection early this week, and it crystallized in the past few days," Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin report for Politico.
As for the drama, let Martin explain: "Republican strategist Karl Rove called Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) late last week and urged him to contact Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to withdraw his name from vice presidential consideration, according to three sources familiar with the conversation. Lieberman dismissed the request, these sources agreed."
Unless . . . "Reports of strong support within John McCain's presidential campaign for Independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman as the Republican candidate for vice president are not a fairy tale," Robert Novak writes in his return-to-work (welcome back!) column. "Influential McCain backers, plus McCain himself, would pick the pro-choice liberal from Connecticut if they thought they could get away with it. But they can't get away with it -- and this has been made clear to McCain by none other than Joe Lieberman himself."
What Rove/Novak know: "Choosing Lieberman or someone else who supports abortion rights, such as former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, would be risky for a candidate who has worked hard to rally conservatives to his side, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey indicates that 20 percent of McCain's supporters would be less likely to vote for him if he selects a running mate who supports abortion rights," Robert Barnes, Chris Cillizza, and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.
"Vice-presidential candidates customarily do not drive vote choices, but there may be an exception: If John McCain were to pick a running mate who favors legal abortion, it could cost him votes, particularly in some core Republican groups," per ABC Polling Director Gary Langer.
Pawlenty dodged all the interesting questions on ABC's "Good Morning America" Thursday, but on whether a "pro-choice" running mate is wise, he told Diane Sawyer: "He does want an administration that reflects his priorities and values."
Romney is off to San Diego: "Following a raucous rally in Henderson, Nev., on behalf of the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican nominee, during which there were multiple calls for Romney to get the VP nod, the former Massachusetts governor sped off in a white SUV, flanked by police cars," ABC's Matt Stuart reports.